Lila Zuniga of Island Transit offered tours of the new shuttle buses at the Earth Day celebration at UTMB in April.Commuters at UTMB are giving a thumbs-up to expanded park-and-ride service between Galveston and mainland cities.

“I love riding the shuttle,” said Lynda Williams, a respiratory therapist who lives in Dickinson and commutes between Victory Lakes in League City and her campus office in Galveston.

New service at Clear Lake Center in Clear Lake and Victory Lakes officially began May 29 after a month of free introductory rides. Service at Texas City began in 2008 and remains popular because many employees live nearby.

Ridership in June rose 2.5 percent, to 8,918 trips, even though fares went into effect for the first time that month. Park-and-ride waived fares on the Clear Lake Center-Victory Lakes line during May to introduce the new service.
 
Passengers say they are saving fuel and money. “I definitely notice a difference in the amount of gas I’m using now,” Williams said. “The cost of wear and tear on my own vehicle is more subtle, but I know I am saving in that area, too.”
 
Williams, an asthma educator and study coordinator in the Department of Internal Medicine,  catches her southbound bus at 7:20 a.m. and arrives at 8:05 a.m. She said she welcomed the recent addition of a mid-day roundtrip between Galveston and Victory Lakes. “It’s good to know in case you have to leave work in the middle of the day.”
 
The new service is expected to reduce congestion and pollution, and eliminate the need for an estimated 93,600 single-occupancy vehicle trips in its first year.
 
Riders may park at park-and-ride stops in Galveston, Clear Lake Center, Victory Lakes, and Mall of the Mainland at Texas City. UTMB riders are eligible for half-off fares of $1.50 each way between Galveston and Texas City, and $3 each way between Galveston and Victory Lakes and Clear Lake Center. Discount tickets must be purchased in advance.
 
UTMB employees may buy books of tickets at a 50 percent discount. Booklets are on sale at the UTMB Bookstore in the Moody Medical Library, 914 Market St.
 
UTMB underwrites part of the park-and-ride service because most of its students and 11,000 employees work or live in Galveston and the mainland cities. Rider fares, a federal grant and contributions from the cities of Galveston and League City also provide support. Island Connect, part of Galveston’s Island Transit agency, operates the service.
 
Williams said she and her husband almost always used public transit when they lived in Germany and Washington, D.C. “It is amazing how many people complain about gas prices, but how hard it is to convince someone to try the shuttle,” she said.
 
A UTMB rider who commutes to Galveston said he found a way to parlay his savings at the pump into a bigger bonus with his supermarket discount card. “The store gives you 10 cents per gallon off for every 100 points you earn from shopping,” said the rider, who didn’t want his name used. “Since I no longer need to fill up my car every four or five days, my gas points are able to accumulate longer before I use them. At my last fill-up, I got 50 cents per gallon off the price and that turned out to be about a $14 savings for that fill-up alone.”